Like many of you, I was shocked to hear of Kevin Conroy’s passing. Geeks all over the world know who Kevin Conroy is as most of us grew up watching him portray Batman from Batman: The Animated Series. For a lot of us, Batman: The Animated Series was more than just a cartoon. There was just something extremely special about it. While DC may have gone simplistic with the designs, there was a lot more to the show as it told mostly mature stories and really captured the essence of the Dark Knight himself. A lot of the show’s success does stem from Kevin Conroy’s performance as the titular character and, because of how good he was in the role, he became the de facto Batman in our heads. Whenever I read a Batman comic, I can’t help but hear Kevin Conroy’s voice when he speaks.
I may have not really thought too much of him, which is why it’s so amazing how much his death really hit me. His death struck something inside me and it felt like a hole had suddenly ruptured in my soul. So, to pay tribute to the man, I felt the best way to honor him in my own special way is to review one of his performances as the Dark Knight. And the best thing I could think to review is Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm takes place in Gotham City, of course. Phantasm, a new player in the scene, has been going around killing high level mobsters and Batman is on the trail to stop this new villain. At the same time, however, one of Bruce Wayne’s old flames, Andrea Beaumont, returns to Gotham City. This causes conflict within Batman as he’s now torn between his pledge to fight crime and an actual chance for love and happiness.
I’ll say right from the start that I really love Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. I remember watching this when it was released in theaters way back in 1993 and being in awe of seeing these characters on the big screen. I may have watched dozens of episodes of The Animated Series but that was on my humble TV. Watching Batman duke it out on something much bigger blew my mind. It certainly helped that the animation does feel slightly better than what they were doing on the television show. It’s not a dramatic upgrade or anything like that. But things do look a little bigger and the shadows do come off as more dramatic.
This also helps with the action scenes and there are quite a bit in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. While there are a good number of fight scenes, the real standout would be Batman’s attempt to elude the police. The stakes here come off as really high as the police are out in full force after the Dark Knight and they pulled no punches in trying to capture or even kill Batman. It’s not that long of a scene but it’s one of the best I’ve seen in any Batman movie.
I also do have to commend DC for taking the risk of introducing a totally new character in Phantasm for the movie. But I do have to say I really love Phantasm’s overall look. I’ve always found it odd that Phantasm never became a canon Batman villain in the comics like Harley Quinn did. I mean, the character does look a little too monochromatic. It wouldn’t hurt to give Phantasm a little color, you know? But still, the overall look is just awesome. From the raggedy hood and cloak combo, his mask that looks like a skull and his weird axe hand weapon, Phantasm looks great.
We can’t forget the performances because, well, they’re all outstanding. Of course, Kevin Conroy hit it out of the ballpark here as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. However, his performance here does feel a little more dynamic than from most of his performances from the TV show. That’s because there’s a lot of emotional content here. In fact, Mask of the Phantasm actually shows how good of a dramatic voice actor Kevin Conroy is as he has to show how he’s giving up a lot just to keep his vow to his parents. That scene in the cemetery pleading over their graves to break his promise because he found happiness with Andrea Beaumont is a really good scene.
Another really good performance does come from Mark Hamill’s Joker. Like Kevin Conroy, a lot of us envision Mark Hamill’s rendition of the Clown Prince of Crime as the perfect Joker voice. And it’s hard not to see why. He does manage to mix up the menace and mirthful with his delivery to perfection. I also have to give a lot of credit to Dana Delaney as Andrea Beaumont does a credible enough performance as Bruce Wayne’s only real love interest. She’s supposed to be this kind and warm-hearted woman so you can empathize with Bruce Wayne’s conflict. I have to say she did an admirable job.
I also like the central mystery of Mask of the Phantasm. Throughout most of the film, Batman is trying to figure out who Phantasm really is so he can take the villain down. I will say that, without spoiling who it it just in case you don’t know, I love how DC played with my expectations to make me feel foolish. When I saw this in 1993, I didn’t expect the big twist because it’s just a cartoon. If you’re just a little more observant and are looking out for these kinds of traps, you can figure it out. But I can definitely appreciate DC tricking me then.
As good as Mask of the Phantasm is, there are a few problems I have with it. While I can appreciate the time it takes to build up Bruce Wayne and Andrea Beaumont’s relationship, it does seem to drag the film down a bit. It could have done a little bit more snappier or made their relationship more interesting instead of being overly lovey-dovey. And, as much as I love Mark Hamill’s Joker, I kind of wish the character wasn’t here. I’m not saying adding the Joker isn’t a bad thing. I just would’ve appreciated a more focused story on Batman chasing down Phantasm instead of mixing in a classic villain. Give the newcomer all of the spotlight, you know?
These are just minor quibbles to how much Batman: Mask of the Phantasm gets right. I just watched it recently because of Kevin Conroy’s passing and, like Batman: The Animated Series, it holds up pretty well. If you haven’t, I do suggest to give it a watch.
Rest in peace, Kevin Conroy.
Have you seen Batman: Mask of the Phantasm? What did you think of it? Also, what’s your most vivid memory of Kevin Conroy’s Batman? Let me know in the comments section below!